The Shmooze

A Jew Among Circumcision Protestors, Capitol Hill Edition

By Allison Gaudet Yarrow

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On Capitol Hill recently, amid preposterously high kites and blooming cherry blossoms, a peaceful anti-circumcision protest took place. It was small. The protest that is. Men wore sandwich boards and a mother-daughter team jiggered signs that read: “Circumcision Is Torture” and “Circumcision Decreases Sensitivity.” Pony-tailed joggers posed for a photo with their thumbs up in front of the signs. The men and women, speaking openly about penises, were tentatively engaged by passersby who felt either curious or confrontational.

One man in tie-dye, with hair more salt than pepper, had driven from Pittsburgh to spread his message on one of America’s most famous lawns. Mr. Kauffman, as he was called, wore a portrait of a smiling, multiracial baby that said: “Let HIM Choose.” Kauffman is circumcised, and he’s so unhappy about it that he chose not to do it his sons, against the advice of his doctor, who is also his brother. Kauffman fell out with his rabbi over the decision, but believes so strongly in the basic tenants of the anti-circumcision movement that he feels the loss was worth it.

The International Council for Genital Integrity publicized the week-long demonstration, which culminated in a march on the anniversary of the congressional ban on female genital mutilation. The same event got more press last year ; it seemed like there were more “inactivists” there then.

The movement is pro-masturbation. Followers think the ritual of circumcision barbaric and philistine. They don’t believe American doctors who claim that, if uncircumcised, one is more susceptible to diseases, and they balk at the substantial evidence that uncircumcised men are less protected from HIV than their cut counterparts. The men and women I spoke to in front of the capitol likened the practice to mutilating female babies’ vulva or labia. The whole subject is a bit difficult to discuss without getting queasy.

I was told that Jewish brises are still kosher in the movement’s purview, if free of cutting. A cutting-free bris is called a brit shalom, but then isn’t this akin to making matzo ball soup without the matzo balls, and consequently, what’s the point?

One participant was quick to note that the anti-circumcision movement isn’t limited to one religion or gender. There’s Jews Against Circumcision, sure, but also separate groups of Catholics, doctors and mothers looking to rid of the ancient practice, and Americans who circumcise their young are among a minority worldwide.


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